Mariscat, 2007 - £6.00
This attractive pamphlet contains much fine, astute writing and the poems don’t grab you by the throat to get your attention. The tone is informal and relaxed, but Stewart Conn engages with important themes, particularly love and death, with emotional authenticity.
Most of the poems are narrative-based and use plain language. They are easy to understand. Nevertheless, Conn makes getting to the heart of things look deceptively effortless, as in ‘Playing Cards with Poulenc’. The composer was subject to mood-swings and would turn his hat brim up or down as a sign of whether he wanted to chat or be left alone. Some people saw this
as attention-seeking: what’s more important—the way
you look at the world, or the way the world looks at you?
The poem takes off when you come to these lines. To be honest, I wish there had been more text as thought-provoking as this in the collection, a little more engagement with complexity. However, the lack of memorable particularity is offset by authentic emotional depth. In ‘Sir Robert de Septvans’, a brass rubbing is framed by the poet’s wife and hung in home after home before suffering a tear and being rolled up in a cylinder. The couple are “unsure what the future may hold for him”—
or ourselves, for whom he spanned half a lifetime;
and whose In Memoriam he may unwittingly become.
The fragility, depth and mortality of love fuse powerfully in this strong final couplet.
Stewart Conn has an uncanny ability to extract the latent power of image and narrative rather than add on inappropriate ‘significance’. Occasional lapses aside—as in ‘Shoe-Shiners: Skopje’, where the huge question of its final lines is out of proportion to its engaging but personal narrative—these are honest, wise, resonant, and well written poems.
Rob A Mackenzie